'Monster' Manitoba tornado leaves storm chaser on 'adrenalin kick'

Professional storm chaser Greg Johnson calls Monday night's tornado in Manitoba a "monster" and among the top four that he's ever seen.

Greg Johnson, Regina-based host of TV show Tornado Hunters, had front-row seat for the twister

Greg Johnson says the twister was among the top 4 he's ever seen 5:36

Professional storm chaser Greg Johnson calls Monday night's tornado in Manitoba a "monster" and among the top four that he's ever seen.

The Regina-based host of the CMT show Tornado Hunters had a front-row seat, within 100 metres, of the twister. For about 20 minutes, he watched as the tornado thundered through fields just north of Pierson, a small community in the southwest corner of Manitoba.

The twister was constantly shifting, morphing into different formations in an impressive display, Johnson said.

Greg Johnson took this photo of the tornado just north of Pierson, southwest of Melita. (Courtesy Greg Johnson)
"At one point it was a perfect stovepipe-type tornado. At one point it was a kilometre-wide wedge tornado. And then there were a number of times where we could see upwards of five, six, maybe even seven little fingers dropping out of the bottom of it," he said.

"If you can imagine braiding someone's hair and those braids all intertwining with each other, that's what was happening with this multi-vortex stage of the tornado. It was incredible [and] the part that's so amazing is that no one was seriously injured. To me it's a bit of a shock."

The tornado brought down trees, fences, hydro poles and power lines, as well as damaged a number of farm buildings in the area. Debris was reported from Tilston north to Virden.

No injuries have been reported to date, officials with Environment Canada told reporters on Tuesday.

Witnessed 3 tornadoes

That tornado was actually the third one Johnson and his group saw. The first two were fairly short, lasting only a few seconds "then this monster touched down," he said.

"The wind intensity was so strong that there were parts of Highway 256 in the southwest part of the province that literally had the asphalt stripped off the road's surface," he said. "I'm still on an adrenalin kick right now, I'm not gonna lie."

After chasing it for a while, the tornado became rain wrapped — a storm chaser term for "no more visuals," Johnson said.

"It's sort of trapped in the rain [and] it got dark. That's a pretty nasty combination and not one that I'm interested in, so we broke off our chase at that point and decided that we had enough."

Environment Canada said the tornado was first reported south of Tilston at 8:28 p.m. CT Monday, about half an hour after tornado warnings were issued for the area.

It was then reported near Reston at 9:55 p.m. and northeast of Virden at 10:55 p.m.

Meteorologists call it a "rare" event, as radar imagery shows the tornado was on the ground for 2½ to three hours. In Canada, tornadoes rarely stay on the ground longer than a few minutes.

"According to radar imagery and according to a number of the reports that we received, the tornado was on the ground for at least two hours and a half, maybe even three hours," said Natalie Hasell, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.

"This is extraordinary. Normally tornadoes are on the ground for just a few minutes, so this was really quite the active system."

The twister has yet to be categorized by Environment Canada officials, who are in southwest Manitoba today to survey the damage and give it a ranking on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF-Scale.

Investigators started surveying the damage in and around Virden, where the twister was last seen, and went to Tilston on Tuesday afternoon. The weather agency said it may take a while before the tornado can be rated.

However, Johnson ranks it high on his own list.

"I mean we were in Joplin, Mo., an F5. We were at El Reno, Okla., in 2013 — the largest tornado ever recorded on Earth. And we witnessed the first ever, twin mile-wide tornadoes on the ground beside each other in Nebraska," he said.

"It's hard to top those events, [but] we were talking about it on our drive last night that this probably number 4 on the list. And the fact that it happened on the Canadian side of the border, it was pretty special for us."


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